Tag Archives: Bay Area Refineries

Refinery Air Watch – new website shows missing info on Valero Benicia and across U.S.

New Website Highlights Gaps in Communities’ Access to Air Quality Data 

https://www.refineryairwatch.org/

By email, November 16, 2022

“Refineries are being forced to measure toxic chemicals they release. But they still don’t want the people next door to know what they’re breathing,” said Dr. Gwen Ottinger, Associate Professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “That’s where Refinery Air Watch comes in.”

Launched this week, RefineryAirWatch.org is a project of Ottinger’s lab, the Fair Tech Collective, graphic design firm SAYGRID, and a coalition of residents from refinery-adjacent communities in the San Francisco Bay area.

>> The site lets users download air quality data that industry and government-run websites make hard to access. It calls out refineries that take measurements but don’t make them available for download by the public. And it exposes widespread failures by the oil industry to support communities’ right to know. Out of 116 refineries in the United States, only 12 measure chemical concentrations continuously or collect data about more than one pollutant.

“In our community,” Benicia, California resident Constance Beutel said, “We went 15 years with undisclosed toxic emissions from the Valero refinery. There was no monitoring in the community so we didn’t know how dangerous our air had become.”

Click image for Benicia details at RefineryAirWatch.org.

Beutel’s group, the Good Neighbor Steering Committee, eventually established the Benicia Community Air Monitoring Program, which measures hazardous pollutants at 5-minute intervals and has publicly available data. Getting the program going was incredibly significant for the community, Beutel said: “Without actual real-time data, we in the public are unaware of the health risks and dangers we live with daily. Having RefineryAirWatch.org as a resource for us and other communities is a huge step forward for the public.”

Refinery Air Watch makes data available for download. It also uses standardized measurements of benzene, required by the Environmental Protection Agency to be taken at refineries across the U.S., to show which refineries have the largest impact on neighbors, which states have the worst polluters, and which corporations are responsible. The site’s designer, Andee Mazzocco of SAYGRID, notes “we collected data from a federally mandated data dump and transformed it into meaningful information citizens can easily access and rely on.”

“This is an environmental justice issue,” said Ottinger. “Six million people live within three miles of an oil refinery, and they’re more likely than other Americans to be people of color, low income, or both. We know that toxic emissions from refineries are one more manifestation of structural racism. But we can’t understand the full extent of the problem if we’re not insisting that refineries measure their pollution and make the data readily available for communities, scientists, and investigative journalists to analyze. Refinery Air Watch sends the message that regulatory agencies need to drastically improve their requirements for air monitoring and data access.”

Contact: 

Five years after power went out at Benicia’s refinery, CA lawmakers considering higher penalties

CA Assembly bill would increase penalties for air quality violations by refineries

KQED  Morning Edition – Ted Goldberg Reports, April 18, 2022


[Later: the bill was “Re-referred to Com. on NAT. RES.”]

Bill Analysis, by the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources:

THIS BILL increases the maximum civil penalty applicable to a refinery for discharging air pollutants in violation of Section 41700, without regard to intent or injury, from $10,000 per day to $30,000 for the initial date of the violation, or $100,000 for the initial date of a second violation within 12 months, subject to conditions… [MORE]

The Bill’s text, history, status: AB-1897, Nonvehicular air pollution control: refineries: penalties
leginfo.legislature.ca.gov

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB1897

Benicia ALERT & VIDEO: Bay Area Refineries Proposing Biofuel & Hydrogen Production

Biofuels and hydrogen proposed at Bay Area refineries – may not be as green as they sound

The Richmond City Council held a study session in late October called “Refinery Transition Briefing.”  (Video below.)  Senior attorney Ann Alexander from Natural Resources Defense Council and staff researcher Dan Sakaguchi with Communities for a Better Environment examined Chevron’s recent announcement to convert at least a portion of their Richmond refinery to biofuel and hydrogen production.  They also discussed the biofuel conversion plans of neighboring refineries in Rodeo, Phillips 66, and Martinez, the already shuttered Marathon refinery.

The study session explained why biofuels and hydrogen may not be as green as they sound, especially when produced at large, aging refineries that are desperate to extend the life and profits of their facilities as the need for fossil fuels ramps down in California.

Why should Benicians care?  Three out of the five Bay Area refineries are in the process of converting to biofuel production and Valero’s corporate leadership out of San Antonio is on the record saying the company is “going all in on carbon capture projects and renewable diesel, a fuel produced from animal fats and waste products, such as used cooking oils.” (Houston Chronicle, May 26, 2021)

ALERT AND INVITATION…  There aren’t enough french fries and soybeans in the world to feed all of our large Bay Area refineries.  And in some cases, the production of hydrogen and biofuels can even increase greenhouse gas emissions.  Give this study session a listen to go beyond the greenwashing hype of the fossil fuel industry. 

VIDEO: Refinery Transition Briefing
Dan Sakaguchi, CBE, and Ann Alexander, NRDC
Richmond City Council, 26 Oct 2021

VIDEO GUIDE
(Thanks to Constance Beutel for snagging the Richmond video.)

  • 0:00      Dan Sakaguchi, Introduction
  • 1:10      Chevron’s Hydrogen Announcement, reading between the lines
  • 2:24      Hydrogen Basics – Grey, Blue and Green Hydrogen
  • 6:23      Back to Chevron’s Announcement – Grey Hydrogen
  • 9:27      Biofuel Basics
  • 10:27   Ann Alexander, Biofuels at Marathon Martinez & P66 Rodeo
  • 10:43   Driving forces
  • 12:20   Timeline
  • 14:16   Environmental benefit claims
  • 15:00   Environmental and community concerns
  • 18:35   Dan Sakaguchi – Chevron Corporation Biofuels Announcements
MORE…

Cracking Down on Refinery Emissions – all about “cat crackers”

[See also: Baykeeper notice of intent to sue Amports; Video and photos at Port of Benicia show fossil fuel polluter in the act;  Marilyn Bardet – Petcoke pollution in Benicia, photos going back to 1995]

A “cat cracker” may sound like a child’s snack, but…

Shell refinery in Martinez. Wikimedia Commons
Bay Area Monitor, League of Women Voters Bay Area, by Leslie Stewart, June-July 2021

A “cat cracker” may sound like a child’s snack, but call it by its full name — fluidized catalytic cracking unit — and it is obviously something far different. Cat crackers are a central piece of refinery equipment that turns crude oil into gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel. Regulating this specialized equipment, referred to by the acronym FCCU, recently resulted in unusually high public participation in a significant Bay Area Air Quality Management District decision.

Reducing pollution is challenging for refineries. Crude oil is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons, which is why it can be split into other products. In addition, it usually contains varying amounts of sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen and various metals, so refining it generates toxic compounds and particles which must be controlled. Refineries are subject to a multitude of regulations to prevent pollution reaching the environment and affecting the community.

FCCUs are responsible for over 50 percent of the particulate matter from refineries — over 800 tons per year — and 17% of particles 10 microns or less in diameter (PM10) from facilities with Air District permits in the region. The Air District’s Rule 6-5, regulating FCCUs in the Bay Area, was first adopted in 2015, because improved federal testing methods showed “scrubbed” FCCU emissions combining with the atmosphere when released to form more particulates than previously thought.  Particulate matter often doesn’t travel far and therefore has its greatest impact on adjacent, disadvantaged communities. Janet Hashe from Atchison Village near the Chevron refinery told the Air District Board in June, “The effects of air pollution are disproportionate on these communities and have been for decades. . .”

Under a recent state law, the Air District must require the Best Available Retrofit Control Technology for pollution sources at facilities that impact disadvantaged communities.  Rule 6-5 was revised in July in accordance with this law.  It will affect up to three of the region’s five refineries: Chevron, PBF (formerly Shell) and the currently inactive Marathon. Phillips 66 doesn’t use an FCCU at its Bay Area facility, and Valero recently installed a wet gas scrubber which should enable it to comply with the updated regulation.

Rule 6-5 now requires refineries to meet more stringent standards for emissions of sulfur dioxide and ammonia. It also sets a new limit on PM10 to reduce these emissions by over 400 tons/year. An agency staff report advised the Board that to reach that standard, local refineries will probably need to use wet gas scrubbers. This technology is used in other refineries across the country in addition to Valero.

The extensive debate over the draft rule, which started in 2019, also considered a more lenient standard that would allow twice as much PM10. Refineries might be able to meet that lower standard with less expensive electrostatic precipitators. During the multiple workshops and detailed discussion by the agency’s staff and Board subcommittees prior to two lengthy Board hearings, the two alternatives were nicknamed .10 and .20, based on the technical definition of how the PM10 output is measured, with .10 being the most stringent. They were also referred to as the ESP (electrostatic precipitator) and WGS (wet gas scrubber) alternatives.

Refinery in Martinez. Wikimedia Commons.

The more lenient .20 standard was potentially easier to achieve, and would have gone into effect by January 2023, while the adopted .10 standard won’t go into effect until January 2026. Although it will take longer to affect the region’s environmental quality, the long-term impact will be greater. Staff estimates show a yearly health benefit in reduced deaths, respiratory disease and cardiac illness of approximately $26-60 million, while the rejected alternative would have achieved only $17-38 million.

Long-term health benefits were the deciding factor for the district’s Stationary Source and Climate Impacts Committee when it voted to send the .10 alternative to the board as the recommended update to the rule. Health effects were also cited by a majority of the organizations and individuals who supported the more stringent alternative during board hearings. As Sally Tobin from Richmond noted at the six-hour June hearing, “Richmond children are hospitalized for asthma twice as often those in other parts of Contra Costa.” The Sierra Club’s Jacob Klein echoed this, saying, “We are learning more and more about the toxic impacts of particulate matter and the environmental racism associated with these emissions.”

However, the .20 limit also had substantial support. A consultant’s report on socioeconomic impacts, prepared as part of the agency’s staff report, concluded that the costs of the .10 limit might result in either employee cutbacks or an increase in gasoline prices, or both. Closures were seen as unlikely, and some public comments suggested that market factors would be the determinant in any decision to shutter a facility. However, refinery workers and their unions agreed with refinery concerns about impacts. Chad Fugate, a third-generation steamfitter, wrote, “We need these refineries to stay open and not run out of town”, while David Akeson was worried that refinery staffing decisions would affect safety, writing, “The recent Chevron fire is still fresh in my mind which was the result of repeat deferral on maintenance due to cost saving.”

District board members were also quite concerned about additional water that would be used in wet gas scrubbers, although reclaimed water and better technology could reduce that impact. Ultimately, they determined that the refinery costs and water usage were substantial unmitigated impacts that were necessary to achieve the benefits of the revised regulation.

Not surprisingly, considering the objections, the Air District has been sued by the two active refineries which will need to upgrade, PBF and Chevron. PBF is already implementing different particulate reduction measures, and maintains that it can’t afford to comply so will shut down. Chevron contests the Air District’s cost-benefit calculations. Both are asking that the rule be set aside; a decision will take several years. Nevertheless, Valero’s improved technology and the switch to refining renewable fuels at Phillips 66, and potentially at Marathon, may indicate the ultimate direction for Bay Area refineries.